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Chipotle restaurants linked to E. coli outbreak in two states

Chipotle restaurants in two states have temporarily closed after being linked to an E. coli outbreak. Known for responsibly-sourced ingredients, the fast-casual chain has been subject to a number of food safety issues in recent months. 

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    Pedestrians pass a Chipotle Mexican restaurant in Arlington, Va.
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Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., the fast-casual restaurant chain, has been linked to a recent cases of E. coli in the states of Washington and Oregon.

The investigation is just beginning, but authorities say 19 people have become ill in Washington; 17 of those have eaten at a Chipotle within the last few weeks. In Oregon, three people have reported symptoms that health-care authorities link to E. coli. Chipotle has voluntarily shutdown 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington.

“We immediately closed all of our restaurants in the area out of an abundance of caution, even though the vast majority of these restaurants have no reported problems,” Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. spokesman Chris Arnold said in a statement to The Seattle Times.  

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In 2013, Chipotle announced that it was overhauling its supply chain to rid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its menu;  it completed the transition in 2015. The fast-casual restaurant has maintained a brand image centered on being a high-quality, responsibly sourced alternative to fast food, which many say has helped Chipotle and other fast-casual restaurants to nearly quadruple their sales since 2000.

 “Day after day we are committed…” a statement on the Chipotle website reads, “to sourcing the very best ingredients we can find and preparing them by hand.”

The recent E. coli outbreak currently being investigated in Washington and Oregon, however, is the third food safety incident in less than three months that has been linked to Chipotle locations.

More than 60 people who ate at Chipotle restaurants in September were diagonosed with salmonella, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. In August, Simi Valley county officials linked Chipotle to over 100 Californians diagnosed with norovirus. 

Chipotle stock is roiling from the latest outbreak, falling 7.4 percent to $592.86 early Monday (it has since leveled off to a 2.57 percent loss, as of 12:30 p.m.). 

"They've been growing quite quickly," Bill Marler, a food safety litigator in Seattle, told The Oregonian. "Given that they've had three outbreaks in a period of two and a half, three months, it behooves them to take a pretty strong look at how they deal with food safety."

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